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Just days after Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón’s office declined to file felony charges against Dave Chappelle’s alleged attacker, Isaiah Lee, Gascón stood in front of media members to “clear up” what he described as “a substantial level of misinformation and misunderstanding concerning the Dave Chappelle case.”
“In the city of L.A. as it is the case with nine other cities in the county, which amounts for about 50% of the population of the county – we have city prosecutors that handle misdemeanors,” Gascón said on Tuesday. “They have the jurisdiction for misdemeanor prosecution in those jurisdictions as it is the case of the city of L.A. being the largest one with a population of nearly 4 million people.”
Gascón went on to explain that Chappelle’s case was handled and reviewed by “one of our deputies in our filing team” and said he agreed with the deputy’s “right decision when she determined that the conduct in this particular case was misdemeanor conduct.”
He added that while he believes Lee, 23, “needs to be held accountable for his behavior,” ultimately his office didn’t agree that Lee’s tackling of Chappelle on stage at the Hollywood Bowl, “under California law did not, and I repeat, did not amount to felony conduct.”
Gascón, who has come under fire for being lenient on crime since being elected as District Attorney in 2020, not only doubled down on his office’s recommendation to kick the case down to the L.A. City Attorney, but explained a multitude of reasons why Lee shouldn’t be charged with a felony – despite an onslaught of pressure to make a stand against similar behavior by charging Lee accordingly. He told reporters on Tuesday that he “can’t make up” charges that don’t warrant them.
“Mr. Lee was not holding a weapon when he rushed Mr. Chappelle and we can see that by the video,” Gascón told media members. “And we also know that from interviews with witnesses, security quickly separated the two men and Mr. Chappelle was not injured.”
“Later during the incident as Mr. Lee was taken into custody, security recovered a folding knife. The blade was folded in all the time while in the possession of Mr. Lee,” the attorney pressed before repeating the sentiment. “And I repeat that again — during the time that Mr. Lee had possession of this folding knife, the blade was always folded.”
He maintained that his office tried to find other charges they could slam Lee with under California law, including felony of carrying a dirk or dagger and even “went one step further and we looked to see whether there was stalking behavior where we could charge this individual as stalking concerning Mr. Chappelle” but digressed since “the blade was not – I repeat – was not exposed and locked, it does not qualify under state law under the section” and “found no evidence” that Lee stalked Chappelle before the alleged brazen attack.
“We also evaluated under California law, whether we could charge Mr. [Lee] for a felony of carrying a dirk or dagger. However, we additionally went one step further, and again, we found no evidence of that being the case,” Gascón said. “Given the totality of the circumstances, this case was referred to the L.A. City attorney, which was the appropriate course of action. And by the way, we do this thousands of times every year. And while it is true that Mr. Lee committed criminal behavior, and he should be held accountable, the place for accountability in this case, given his behavior, will be via prosecution by the L.A. City attorney who has the jurisdiction to handle this case.
When asked whether he had anything to do with the decision to not bring felony charges against Lee, Gascón said he left the choice up to a deputy filer in his office.
“That’s correct. You have to remember that this office looks at over 100,000 cases a year,” he told reporters. “I think anybody that thinks that I review every case in this office is not connected to reality. This is a very large county, I have very good people in our filing team, and they’re well-trained, and she made the right decision.”
Elsewhere, during his press conference, Gascón appeared to lump in the incident regarding Chappelle with the Astroworld tragedy that occurred in November 2021 in Houston, Texas that saw 10 people killed after thousands of fans ran amuck leaving many injured, trampled and in some instances rendered unconscious due to loss of oxygen.
According to Gascón, he’s reached out and has spoken with a number of venues to coordinate a roundtable discussion to do an analysis of what went down in Houston and Los Angeles so they can reassess protocols.
“Increasingly we have seen incidents that are questioning the safety of our entertainment venues. Mr. Chappelle is only the most recent one,” Gascón said. “Back on December 18 of last year, during a music festival in the Banc of California (Stadium), we had Mr. Darrell Caldwell, who was murdered and in November of 2021, we had 10 people that died in Houston during the Astroworld Music Festival.”
The incident Gascón referenced is the murder of Drakeo the Ruler, who suffered a stab wound to the neck at the Once Upon A Time in LA festival at the Banc of California Stadium.
Snoop Dogg would cancel his set in Exposition Park before the rest of the show was also shuttered.
Live Nation said in a statement at the time: “There was an altercation in the roadway backstage. Out of respect for those involved and in coordination with local authorities, artists and organizers decided not to move forward with remaining sets so the festival was ended an hour early,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
“These incidents highlight the problem that we’re having in our communities concerning the safety of entertainment venues,” Gascón said during his presser on Tuesday. “We all – entertainers, those attending and the rest of the community have a right to feel safe when we’re attending these events. And we’re fortunate enough in L.A. to be actually one of the capitals of the entertainment world. We have music, we have comedy, we have all types of entertainment, and we have to ensure that we do better.”
Gascón said due to the wide-ranging entertainment options the city provides, “I am convening a group of stakeholders that will include venues, events security, law enforcement and other stakeholders in order to discuss protocols to ensure that we improve the safety in our local venues countywide, and hopefully share what we learn from others around the nation.”
“But I think it’s imperative that we do so because frankly, I am increasingly concerned that we may end up with an incident similar to the one that occurred in Houston. And I want to make sure that we prevent that in our community,” Gascón added.
Meanwhile, L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer hit Lee with the four misdemeanor crimes on Friday, which include battery, possession of a weapon with intent to assault, unauthorized access to the stage area during a performance and commission of an act that delays the event or interferes with the performer.
Chappelle’s attorney said at the time the comedian is “upset” at Gascón office’s decision to not issue felony charges.
“It’s a travesty of justice that DA [George] Gascòn is refusing to prosecute this case as a felony,” Chappelle’s attorney Gabriel Colwell told the New York Post. “The City Attorney, who filed the case, is doing his job but DA Gascón should also do his job and charge this as a felony.”
On Tuesday, Lee was denied a reduction in the $30,000 bond he is ordered to pay if he wishes to be released from jail ahead of his trial.